CBS issued a damning independent review of mistakes related to last fall's 60 Minutes Wednesday report on US President George W. Bush's National Guard service and fired three news executives and a producer for their "myopic zeal" in rushing it on the air.
The review released Monday said CBS compounded the damage with a circle-the-wagons mentality once the report came under fire. The independent investigators added, however, that they found no evidence of a political bias against Bush.
CBS News President Andrew Heyward and Dan Rather, who announced in November he was stepping down as the anchor of CBS Evening News, escaped without any disciplinary action. But Rather, who narrated the Sept. 8 story and subsequent follow-ups, was criticized by CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves for "errors of credulity and over-enthusiasm."
"The system broke down on this one, for sure," said Louis Boccardi, retired chief executive officer of The Associated Press, who conducted the investigation along with former Republican Attorney-General Dick Thornburgh. They delivered their 224-page report to Moonves last week.
Fired were Mary Mapes, the story's producer; Josh Howard, executive producer of 60 Minutes Wednesday; Howard's top deputy, Mary Murphy; and CBS News senior vice president Betsy West.
The 60 Minutes TV news magazine story had questioned Bush's Vietnam War-era commitment to service in the Texas Air National Guard. Mapes began reporting the story in 1999, but the report centered on documents obtained only weeks earlier, supposedly written by Bush's commander, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian. The memos said that then First Lieutenant Bush did not take a mandatory medical exam and that Killian reportedly felt pressured to sugarcoat an evaluation of him.
Questions were quickly raised about the typed memos, with some document experts saying it appeared they contained a computer character inconsistent with typewriters at the time.
Boccardi and Thornburgh found that Mapes had said the documents were authenticated, when in fact she had found only one expert to vouch for only one signature in the memo. They said she also failed to look into the background of her source, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett; to find Burkett's source; or to find other corroboration of the charges.
"Her confidential source was not reliable and her authenticators were unable to authenticate the documents, and yet she maintained the opposite ... This is truly disquieting,: Moonves said in a statement released with the report.
Mapes said Monday she was "terribly disappointed" by the report's conclusions. She said she believed the story was corroborated by others and consistent with previously known records, and that the panel was quick to condemn her based on statements from people who said different things to her.
"I am shocked by the vitriolic scapegoating in Les Moonves' statement," Mapes said in a statement. "I am very concerned that his actions are motivated by corporate and political considerations -- ratings rather than journalism."
Mapes said the decision to air the story when it did was made by her superiors, including Heyward, and not by her.
"If there was a journalistic crime committed here, it was not by me," she said.